We have photos from the crawl space beneath the living room in my house. Two of the three bricks that, together with a cinder block, support the floor joists are cracked.There's a joke in there somewhere. And if not a joke, there's at least a sermon illustration. I can't really think of one, but maybe you have ideas you can share in the comments. I'm no great fan of church construction; I think a lot of money goes into it that could be better spent on other things. Moreover, I think often church architecture enhances the separation of the church from the world around it, and subtly trains congregants to assume a fortress mentality, as though the church is their only protection from the world, as though their first priority ought to be protection from the world. I rather like the idea of something so quintessentially Christian as liturgical worship being celebrated in a family room packed to the gills with rough-and-tumble guests. It's a dynamic tension that, apparently, can make a big impact. It's a potentially atomic mass. Anyway, no one was hurt at the extra-dense mass in my uncle's family room, although apparently none of my family members saw anything wrong with sending my cousin into the crawl space of a house that could collapse at any moment. My uncle is looking into what would be involved in repairing or replacing the damaged bricks. In the meantime, I'll keep thinking about what jokes, and what applications, can be culled from this momentous mass. I welcome your help to that end.
Monday, August 11, 2014
I recently attended a reunion of my mother's family. Not everyone in the family was there, but it seemed at times as though everyone in the world was there. The Gradys are Irish Catholic, which means they are both prolific and prodigious. And well-lubricated; in addition to two Grady-reunion-themed t-shirts we each went home with a Grady-reunion-themed pint glass - an appropriate memento if ever there was one. I had to leave early the day after the reunion for a cross-country road trip, so while I got to enjoy the fun of the reunion, I missed what might have been the most memorable part of the weekend. My uncle, the priest (now retired) offered to have the family over to his house for Sunday morning mass. Now, I'm not sure who all went - a few of my uncles, aunts and cousins have left the fold over the course of their adulthood - but my uncle the priest estimates about a ton and a half's worth of people showed up for the Eucharist. (That may be his subtle way of suggesting that some of us need to lose some weight, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.) I've heard of ministers comparing attendance numbers, but I've never heard of them calculating by tonnage. Anyway, at some point that morning the mass was interrupted by what my uncle describes as the "big bangs."
Friday, August 01, 2014
It's just one of the many memorable phrases from the great film Back to the Future: "Make like a tree, and get out of here." Oh Biff. He means "Make like a tree and leave." TWEET THIS: When anything ends, it becomes the incubator of something new. http://loud-time.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-making-like-tree.html I recently read some thoughts on trees from Andy Summers, the guitarist for the Police, in his memoir One Train Later:
"Guitars begin as trees, float down rivers, get hauled into lumberyards, are sawed into planks, and then are dried, cured, and left to age. They arrive in the player’s hand still with the memory of a tree, atoms and molecules reforming to become a guitar. A history begins; fate is determined; events take shape."I like this. Before a guitar is a guitar, it's a tree. A tree gives up something true and beautiful about it, and through a careful, deliberate process it becomes something out of which truth and beauty can flow. Its treeness remains, but now its guitarness can take shape. It's part of the calling of every human, I think, to make like a tree: to take root, and to bloom and blossom, to offer shade and support to the ecosystem we find ourselves in; but then also to leave, and in that leaving to make new and different contributions to the world around us. They may be less, they may be more, they may cost us much, but they are ours to make, and we do no good if we refuse to make them. TWEET THIS: It's part of the calling of every human to take root, but then also to make new and different contributions. So we're making like a tree, and we're getting out of here. And when we arrive in our new place, we hope to make like a tree, lay down roots, and give ourselves to something new. It's scary, and it's costing us a lot, but it's what's next for us. Moving is like a death. It's worth mourning as such. But it's also a new beginning; indeed, the death itself contributes to the new thing being created. We're grieving our leaving, but we're eager to plant new roots and start our new life.
Image shamelessly lifted from Kurt Willems's Facebook page.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Long before he was the guitarist for the Police, Andy Summers was a guitarist at large, first in London, eventually in the United States, touring with bands both known and unknown. One day, after an abrupt and curt dismissal from the Soft Machines that sent him straight into the arms of the Animals, Andy got an invitation to swing by a music studio in LA, where Jimi Hendrix had booked some time to record.
That night when I finally lie down, I know I have just passed through a seminal moment in my life. Jimi is having a huge influence on guitarists everywhere: people are mimicking his style, and little Jimis are springing up everywhere. The Hendrix style is very seductive, and at this moment in the world of rock guitar, it’s hard to resist trying to get all his licks and aping his style. But I wrestle with it because from almost the first moment I began playing the guitar, the one precept that has consistently come at me, been hammered into my brain, held up as the sine qua non of playing music, is the idea that you must find your own voice, you must - in the words of countless musician interviews in the magazines I read as a teenager - "have something to say." Jimi has something to say, but somehow through a combination of natural stubbornness, in-born musical instincts, and the long embrace of the "own voice" idea, the thought of being a Hendrix clone is anathema to me.TWEET THIS: Imagine sitting alongside the exemplar of your chosen vocation. What decisions would such an encounter demand of you? Andy Summers writes this memoir in the present tense, an interesting quirk for most of the book, but in moments like this the memories crackle with energy. The fact is, so much of contemporary music, of any creative endeavor, actually, is mimicry. We emulate those we admire, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Earlier in One Train Later Andy wrote about the Eric Clapton fever that spread throughout the guitarist community in England, another occasion for him to resist the temptation to co-opt someone else's style. I'm impressed with Andy's capacity to honor those musicians whose innovations he rejects; he doesn't deny the greatness of Clapton or Hendrix or anyone else, he just declines to play their way. There's a cost to this commitment. To continue to seek an elusive voice of your own is to make yourself less marketable; other, lesser artists will happily don the Jimi mask and take the gig you refuse to take. It hurts to not have a voice; you suffer for continuing to search for it. But it's out there, and with patience and vision, you'll find it.
I am in a position [as lead guitarist for the band The Animals] that many guitarists would covet, but inside I have a nagging feeling that it is temporary and that I have not yet found the environment in which I can be the most expressive. . . . Other guitarists I started out with — Clapton, Beck, Page, Albert Lee — are well on their way. Maybe I have been sticking to my own path too rigidly, maybe I should have taken a more obvious route like everyone else, or maybe my time hasn’t come yet. But like anyone, I need the setting in which it can take root. At the moment the partners I am seeking are both still at school in England: one at Millwall in the English west country, the other at St. Cuthbert's grammar school in Newcastle.TWEET THIS: It hurts to not have a voice. But it's out there, and with patience and vision, you'll find it. The partner Andy sought at Millwall in the English west country was drummer Stewart Copeland; the partner at St. Cuthbert's in Newcastle was bassist Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting. Together they would become the Police, who carved out a unique sound in the 1970s and 1980s by blending jazz, reggae and punk music with smart, literary song lyrics. They've sold over 75 million records and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and are included on numerous lists of the greatest artists of all time. Andy Summers eventually found his voice, and it sounded nothing like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix. I, for one, am glad he held out for it.
Monday, July 28, 2014
I've started my new job as a telecommuter; after a few weeks I'll shift to working onsite. I was always attracted to the notion of telecommuting - fewer disruptions, plus the acceptability of pajama pants as "business casual" - but my wife wisely warned that I wouldn't take to it. I'm too relational; I miss the group dynamic. So I'm glad I'll soon be entering more fully into my new work environment, but I've been around long enough to recognize that the introduction of a new element to an ecosystem (which is a very vogue way of talking about being a new employee) introduces a fair bit of disequilibrium. And with the introduction of disequilibrium comes a crisis for the collective: who must change, the person or the system? TWEET THIS: A new element in an ecosystem introduces a crisis for the collective: who must change, the person or the system? This is the old evolutionary dilemma: adapt or die. Except that in this instance we're dealing with human personalities, and to change oneself simply to fit in to an existing culture can feel like the end of a significant part of oneself. In this instance, we contend with a more existential dilemma: adapt and die. Just a little bit. Is that melodramatic? I suppose it is. I'm not going to die just because I can no longer play music through the speakers of my computer as I work from my office. Given the environment in which I'll be working, I'll have to do like one of my new coworkers and wear headphones. Then there's style - another challenge to my existing habits: as an editor, I have to conform my work to the house style guide of my new employer, which, unlike my previous employer, seems to think, that commas, should be used, like, everywhere.
People who stand out as different face ongoing pressures to prove their loyalty to the majority. One way people do so is to distance themselves from those who are similarly "different."Yet another way the norm tyrannizes the deviant: the norm pits the deviants against one another. And the deviants play along, because simply by acknowledging their commonalities they establish a new norm, which establishes new deviances, which invites more marginalization. It's stunning how effective we all are at attacking one another's sense of self. Whatever. It's hard out here being a deviant. Shocker. The question is, what are you going to do about it? And how will you, a tempered radical, pursue your radical agenda in appropriately tempered ways? TWEET THIS: Any proposed change to your environment, no matter how tempered, will seem radical to some. I do wish I'd read this book fifteen or twenty years ago, when I was first facing up to my deviancies, when I was first being radicalized. Not that it isn't helpful in my current season of life, and not that it won't be helpful in my new environment (and, frankly, not that I suffered all that much for being different), but I do think we first contend with these challenges to our identity early on in adulthood, in our earliest encounters with organized environments. John Lennon actually sees this pressure reaching all the way back to our infancy:
As soon as you're born They make you feel small.The ways we engage our environments with our uniquenesses, with our distinct visions, are cast relatively early and harden into fixed attitudes relatively quickly. Cynicism plagues the tempered radical when an environment resists change; it's increasingly hard for a deviant to stay positive (or recover positivity) when their deviancy is actively, formally discouraged. Indeed, when simply being yourself feels like a battle, when your vision for the future is seen by your host culture as aberrent, Meyerson advises that "it is important to know when to stop fighting and instead look elsewhere." But because so much of tempered radicalism is a matter of identity, because our positive deviancy sets so quickly and follows us forward in life, we also have to be patient, circumspect, resolute and resilient. Meyerson quotes Keith Hammonds to remind us, in a way that is simultaneously inspiring and discouraging, that "Tempered Radicals .. are irritants to their organizations in the way that pearls are irritants to oysters." She goes on:
The capacity to push people to confront the conflicts and adaptive challenges facing a system is one of the most crucial and difficult aspects of real leadership.In this way, and really in countless other ways, tempered radicals and positive deviants are assets to any environment; the disruption to equilibrium they offer may occasionally be sloppy or produce unintended consequences - they are human, after all - but it unsettles environments that, as often as not, need to be unsettled. I count ninety-five commas in this post. Happy, new norm?